Friday, September 25, 2009

Weekly Transformers Feature: Quake

The Targetmasters of 1987 proved popular enough for Hasbro to continue the concept into 1988.  But rather than just create more robots with weapons that also turned into robots, they decided to offer a new twist: Double Targetmasters!  Although these toys were actually smaller than the original Targetmasters (and were even sold on cards instead of boxed, as the original Targetmasters were), they boasted two "Nebulan" figures that would become weapons for the larger robot.  Quake is an example of such a "Double Targetmaster."

Like all Targetmasters, there is a sense in which Quake is, by himself, a normal Transformer.  If one were to lose his weapons, he'd still be a complete Transformer by himself.  You wouldn't be missing some vital body part or huge piece of his alt mode if the weapon were never recovered.  He'd just be weaponless.  This is in stark contrast to, say, the Headmasters, who kind of need their heads to be full-fledged robots.

Indeed, since Quake turns into a tank, one could argue that he has (or, better yet, is) a weapon even without his Nebulan partners.  Of course, it bears mentioning that the turret itself is a removable piece, and although it could easily be replaced with one of the Nebulan weapons (as seen here), if the turret were lost, this mode really would seem incomplete.

Pictured here (left to right) are the Nebulans, Heater and Tiptop.  In keeping with the smaller size of the toy they are packaged with, these two are completely immobile in humanoid mode, and don't even fold in half to transform like the Nebulan partners created for Targetmaster toys of the previous year (such as Stepper).  These guys "transform" simply by swinging a gun barrel down from behind.  Indeed, unlike most (but not all) Nebulans of the previous year, the "humanoid" forms of these toys don't even make any effort to hide the handles sticking right out of their chests!

Like his larger forebears, Quake's Nebulans become weapons that he can use in either robot or vehicle mode.  However, for the Double Targetmasters, each of the weapons is designed so that one weapon can fit over the other weapon to create a "double-weapon," able to be used either on the vehicle mode (as seen here) or in robot mode.  You can put whichever Nebulan weapon you like on top of the other.  It works either way.

Quake's tank turret is removable, as I mentioned earlier, and has a peg of the same size as the handles of the Nebulan weapons, meaning that Quake has the feature (unique among Double Targetmasters) of adding a third weapon to the combined weapon mode.

A minor footnote.  From time to time, I make note of a toy that was exclusive to Japan, and not sold in the United States (at least, not during Generation One.  Many did eventually find their way to America some 20 years later).  Perhaps surprisingly, there are actually more molds that were sold in the United States, but never in Japan!  Quake is just one example of such an American-exclusive Transformer which has still never been sold in Japan (not even as a repaint)!  Fred's Workshop provides a list (apparently complied by someone else, but I don't know who "Greg" is).

Friday, September 18, 2009

Weekly Transformers Feature: Beast Wars Megatron (crocodile)

I wrote a bit about the origins of the Beast Wars line not that long ago, and even though that history is important to understanding this toy, it's probably best not to retread all that ground again so soon, so I'll just refer you to the entry on Beetle.  This version of Megatron was one of the very first toys to be released at retail as part of the Beast Wars line in 1996, being part of a two-pack with the original version of Optimus Primal.  Normally I review multiple toys that were packaged together at the same time, but when I got Megatron at BotCon this year, I purchased it loose, and I do not have Optimus Primal, so Megatron will have to stand on his own.

Like the McDonald's Happy Meal toys that included Beetle, Megatron demonstrates a couple of signs of the Beast Wars concept still being in its infancy, and not quite yet broken away as an altogether new line of Transformers.  One indicator of this (only obvious if one knows how the Beast Wars line will eventually evolve) is this toy's alternate mode.  This version of Megatron is a crocodile, whereas pretty much every other version of Megatron in this line is a Tyrannosaurus Rex (the one other exception is a dragon, which is still far closer to a T-Rex than a crocodile!).

Megatron's transformation is pretty simple.  Pull up on the tail, and the whole toy opens up to more or less the final robot mode.  All one really has left to do is pose the robot legs, make sure the crocodile legs are out of the way, and that the robot fists are fully in place.  You do also have to take the tail off of the back of the robot mode and flip a section over to create Megatron's weapon, which then goes in either fist.  Personally, I prefer to leave the tail on the back, but it's really not worth another picture here, and I'd be remiss if I didn't demonstrate the weapon, as mediocre as it is.

I said that there were at least a couple of signs from this set that the Beast Wars concept was still not yet fully formed.  The other one is the mini-comic that was packed in.  The comic implies that the Megatron and Optimus Primal seen here are simply new, updated forms of Generation One (or, if you want to nitpick, Generation Two, but at this point there's really no difference) Megatron and Optimus Prime.  When the Beast Wars cartoon (which almost every other Beast Wars continuity claims as its own, and which used the later gorilla and T-Rex forms of Primal and Megatron, respectively) came out, it was clear that these characters were not the same as the originals, but merely shared their names.  This discrepancy, coupled with the unique crocodile beast mode, means that this toy may not represent the same character as the one usually referred to as "Beast Wars Megatron" at all!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My Brother, the Graphics Guru

Amateur Transformers coverEver since my brother Nick was three (if not earlier), we've known that he was talented.  He would draw images of his favorite cartoon character (Goofy) that were well beyond the scribblings one would expect of a toddler.  Later years would add Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ghostbusters, Mario, Link, the Street Fighter pantheon, and many other pop-culture icons (including, yes, Transformers, as demonstrated by this image I shared a while back).

Nick's also developed some considerable computer skills, and currently works as the tech guru for one of the local auto service chains in the Louisville area.  His job allows him to do some work from home (clearing up a computer glitch over the network, for example), but also requires him to travel around northern Kentucky quite a bit when a computer needs hands-on attention.  It keeps him quite busy.

Even so, Nick's artistic skills continue to find outlets.  A few years ago, he put up this web page to showcase a number of 3D models that he created.  Nick is a perfectionist par excellence (there's quite a bit of that in my family!), and these have been done with painstaking attention to detail.  In the case of Transformers like Optimus Prime here, he would actually measure the actual toy to precise levels (and, sometimes, taking the toy apart to make sure that individual pieces were accurately measured) so that the final product would be perfect.

This perfectionist streak extends to video game designs, too.  Take this rendition based on the Super Mario Bros. game, for example.  Even though the original game is (obviously) not in three-dimensions, it was important to Nick to make everything "pixel perfect."  If you were to look at this image from the head-on perspective of the original game, you theoretically shouldn't be able to tell the difference.  Yet this was not directly copied from screen captures or any other part of the original game.  It was all drawn from scratch!  I invite you to check out other examples of Nick's work on his own page.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Weekly Transformers Feature: Encore #10 Minibots Set

Throughout most of the past decade or so, most Generation One reissues have originated in Japan.  Although it was the American Hasbro that originated the idea of taking convertible robot toys and creating a storyline and personalities for them (thus, creating the Transformers concept), Hasbro is, first and foremost, a toy company geared towards meeting the needs of the children's toy market, and children just don't care as much about toys from 20 years ago as adults do.

The Japanese market is very different.  Collectibles made for an older audience are fairly commonplace, and there is clearly an audience of people who remember the original Transformers toys that, for whatever reason, would still like to buy those toys even today.  So the Japanese company responsible for Transformers toys (currently TakaraTomy in Japan, although this company is known merely as "Tomy" in the rest of the world) has been willing to put money and resources into locating old molds and/or restoring them so that old toys can be reissued for modern collectors.  If Hasbro does do a reissue, it tends to be only because Tomy (or Takara before them) has done so first.

The Encore series is only the latest of several lines of Generation One reissues.  Some popular toys, such as Optimus Prime and Megatron, which had been reissued as recently as a few years previously (for the Transformers Collection line that I usually just refer to as "reissues" for entries such as the one I did for Skids last year) were reissued yet again for the Encore line, while other toys were reissued for the first time.  In the case of this Minibots set, released in 2008, it is the first reissue for most of these toys, but not quite all of them.  From left-to-right, these are Bumblebee, Tailgate, Outback, Pipes, and Swerve.

Other than Bumblebee (the only toy in this set to have been previously reissued, about which more later), all of the toys in this set were originally created in 1986, and were remolds of Minicars released with the very first Transformers in 1984.  Tomy made a few significant changes to these toys from their 1986 versions, making them readily identifiable as reissues.  Most significant among these changes are the painted faces, giving these characters distinct features (especially eyes) that they did not have in the '80s.  A couple of faction symbols have had their old stickers traded out for tampographs, as well.  All in all, these changes are a vast improvement, although I do find myself wishing that they could have removed the stickers altogether.  Note how Swerve's sticker just above his faction symbol is just a bit crooked.  Oh, well.  Can't have everything, I guess....

Bumblebee is the only figure from this set to have been reissued prior to this set's release.  In fact, this toy has been reissued a couple of times in the past decade alone.  The first reissue was a keychain produced by Fun4All in 2001, which was more or less identical to the original, with the exception of remolding to accommodate the metal chain and slightly different tires.  In 2004, for Transformers Collection, a much more significant change was introduced to the mold, giving Bumblebee a new head intended to more closely resemble the character's animation model.  This new head was retained for the 2008 Encore release.  This version can be distinguished from the 2004 version by the addition of some paint detailing, notably to bring out the vehicle mode lights and fenders.  Ironically, the package art (seen at the top of this entry) still depicts Bumblebee with the head seen on the original toy (seen here to the right).

Despite being a Japanese product, this set can be purchased fairly inexpensively today.  TFsource sells it for about $30.  That works out to about $6 per toy (before shipping, of course).  When one figures that "Legends"-sized toys (the closest comparable modern size) sell for about $5 if you can find them at a standard toy store (and $9 if you have to go to a place like Rite Aid!), this seems quite reasonable.  If these classic characters interest you at all, I certainly recommend picking them up while you can.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Weekly Transformers Feature: Animated Wreck-Gar

Ever since the 21st century began (if not earlier), Transformers fans have pretty much expected that each new Transformers franchise would contain homages to the Generation One era of the 1980s.  The Animated franchise was certainly no exception.  Indeed, it has been argued that Animated has been the most "G1-like" franchise in Transformers history (with the exception, of course, of G1 itself).  Yet, for all the homages, Animated remains very distinctly its own entity.

Animated Wreck-Gar is an homage to a character that first appeared in 1986's Transformers: The Movie (the cartoon one, not the Michael Bay explodo-fests of recent years).  G1 Wreck-Gar was the leader of a group of robots who lived on a planet made out of junk and transformed into motorcycles of various types.  These robots called themselves--wait for it--"Junkions" (yeah, real creative, I know).  G1 Wreck-Gar, voiced in the movie by Monty Python member Eric Idle (later by Tony Pope in Season 3 of the cartoon) spoke almost entirely in catch phrases from Earthen television broadcasts (leading to lines like "Yes friends, act now, destroy Unicron. Kill the Grand Poobah. Eliminate even the toughest stains!").  Why a 21st century alien robot would be so fixated on television shows from mid-to-late 20th century Earth is never explained, but it certainly did make for an intriguing character.

Anyway, this entry isn't about G1 Wreck-Gar, but about the Animated version.  Instead of hailing from a planet of junk, Animated Wreck-Gar was created when an All Spark fragment fell into a pile of junk and gave it life.  Appropriately enough, this "pile of junk" robot transformed into a garbage truck.  Personally, I find the idea of a garbage truck Transformer as both novel and completely appropriate for a Wreck-Gar homage.  I get a bit annoyed when people insist that if anyone else has a problem with a franchise, it's because that franchise isn't "the same" as G1.  Change is fine.  A garbage truck Wreck-Gar is change (remember, G1 Wreck-Gar was a motorcycle).  But the essence of the character is homaged very nicely while giving the writers an interesting idea to play with.  And, indeed, a lot of homages don't work especially well.  The quality of the idea is what matters the most.  If the idea is terrible, then why shouldn't we say so?  This idea, thankfully, is tremendously cool.

The writers of Animated also changed Wreck-Gar's personality significantly from the G1 version.  Although Animated Wreck-Gar's head is made out of a television set, it's not so much that this Wreck-Gar is obsessed with television as he's just very, very impressionable.  This Wreck-Gar is as likely to repeat anything you tell him as he is a television commercial, per se.  This leads to some sticky situations when the extremely naive Wreck-Gar ends up helping villains such as the Angry Archer and even sides with the Decepticon Lugnut for a time.

Animated Wreck-Gar homages the G1 character in at least one more way.  When Eric Idle wasn't available to voice the new incarnation of the character (apparently beause he was out producing Spamalot.  Great play, by the way!), the writers remembered that the song that played during G1 Wreck-Gar's opening scene in the 1986 movie was a song called "Dare to Be Stupid" by Weird Al Yankovic.  Weird Al was contracted to provide the voice for the Animated version of Wreck-Gar, and proved an excellent fit (he must have especially loved saying the line "I am Wreck-Gar! I dare to be stupid!").  When it was announced that Weird Al would be a guest at BotCon 2009, I specifically picked up this toy for the express purpose of having Weird Al autograph it.  After a rather long line, I'm proud to say that I was able to achieve that goal.

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